I WAS listening with only half an ear to the “Swing and Sway” program on Radio 3CR Community Radio in Melbourne a few Saturdays ago, and heard a very fine version of a catchy song which has been a favourite of mine for some time – You’re a Sweetheart. It was played with a beat just made for the current crop of swing dancers and featured a vibraphone player whose name I interpreted as “Goober Sly”.
Turning to Tom Lord’s Jazz Discography on my computer (which claims to list every jazz recording since 1898), I couldn’t find Mr. Sly. However Adrian Rollini and his Goofus Five had recorded the tune in 1938 which was the right period. Could Goofus Five be a Chinese whisper for Goober Sly? Yes indeed!! Click on Rollini’s picture on the left to hear the recording which features Bobby Hackett (cornet), Adrian Rollini (vibraphone), Frank Victor (guitar), Harry Clark (bass), Buddy Rich (drums) and Sonny Schuyler doing the vocals.
Amongst many instruments, Rollini played the GOOFUS,(aka the Cuesnophone), a quirky instrument invented by French musical instrument manufacturer Cuesnon in 1924. Hence, of course, the origin of the name The Goofus Five.
The Goofus is a free-reed instrument resembling a saxophone in looks. Its reeds vibrate when the desired keys are activated and the player blows across them through a rubber mouthpiece. It may be held upright like a saxophone or horizontally. The keys are set in two parallel rows: one corresponds to the white keys of a piano keyboard, the other to the black keys. Click on the picture of the goofus to hear how it sounds -(somewhat like an harmonica) – in Tessie! Stop Teasin’ Me issued in 1924. Lineup for this recording was Rollini on Goofus, Irving Brodsky – Piano, Ray Kitchingham – Banjo, Stan King – Kazoo and Bill Moore – Trumpet. Stan King does a very creditable kazoo solo in the first part of the track, while Rollini on goofus follows the “vocal” element. (I must do a bit of research on “great kazoo players” and bring you the results!)
Rollini, however, is best regarded for his skill on the bass saxophone. It was during his work with The Goofus Five and The Little Ramblers – both subgroups of The California Ramblers (a band with which he played for many years) – that Rollini developed his distinctive style of saxophone playing. His swing and impetus are very evident in And Then I Forget recorded with The Little Ramblers in 1926 which is amongst some of the best recordings that typify the era. Click on the picture at the left to listen.